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I recently raised concern about safety
13

I recently raised concern about safety

I recently raised concern about safety

(OP)
I recently raised concern to our department head about a potential control system flaw which could result in a product catching fire. We urgently called a meeting of peers and conducted a FMEA and Safety Analysis. The FMEA resulted in an RPN of 700. After this I was told to delete/shred all reference files and documents related to this analysis in the interest of protecting the company preemptively. The department head further explained that we would only report the corrective actions and would not give reason why to any executive members other than himself (for plausible deniability).

Questions: Is this a normal practice (I think not), and is the destruction of these documents approaching any legal boundaries? Should I comply with these requests or would I be incriminating myself?

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Consult a lawyer... ASAP.

If you do not make the right play here, it could, at the very least, cost you your license. But do not take my word for it. See a lawyer.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)


RE: I recently raised concern about safety

You are on the verge of destroying documents that would otherwise be required to be given up in a lawsuit. Should there be actual and multiple deaths, it could become a criminal negligence and you would be in the middle of it.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Ya, this sounds very bad. Shredding documents and not telling executive members about what happened appears to me to be wrong.

Check out Eng-Tips Forum's Policies here:
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RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Someone asked you to shred documents that show a potentially life-ending product weakness... and your immediate thought wasn't to contact a lawyer?! Run, don't walk, to the nearest attorney and start asking questions.

Dan - Owner
http://www.Hi-TecDesigns.com

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

A further consideration is whether you should, or want to, work for someone like that, particularly if you do have a PE, since you are obligated by law to protect public safety.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Sounds like a big mess that you're in.

Get a lawyer. Talk about whistle blower protections.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Everyone - I believe the issue here isn't that the questionable senior person asked to hide a flaw that exists.
They instead asked to hide a flaw that was noticed, reviewed, and corrected before anyone was put in an unsafe condition.

So the unethical behavior here is that they are hiding the fact that a problem was discovered, not that a problem exists....a significant difference.

It is still unethical either way.

The problem I see here is that the behavior of hiding a "Oh, we screwed up" fact is that this displays a lack of honesty and ownership of responsibility.
I believe you owe a significant level of honesty and openness to both your peers and your employers in your work.

Check out Eng-Tips Forum's Policies here:
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RE: I recently raised concern about safety

"The department head further explained that we would only report the corrective actions and would not give reason why to any executive members other than himself (for plausible deniability)."
Sounds like the department head is protecting himself from any exposure to the executives due to the error occurring on his watch.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

3
Start documenting every action you take and every conversation, a la James Comey.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts."

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

And thus also make up a few things to protect yourself as well!

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RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Quote (JAE)

Everyone - I believe the issue here isn't that the questionable senior person asked to hide a flaw that exists.
They instead asked to hide a flaw that was noticed, reviewed, and corrected before anyone was put in an unsafe condition.
I saw nothing in the OP's post that suggested this was before the product was introduced to market (though it could very well have been).

Quote (n3w9uy)

After this I was told to delete/shred all reference files and documents related to this analysis in the interest of protecting the company preemptively.
Perhaps its the OP's wording, but that reads as if the company knows they could get sued because of a failure and wants to ensure as little documentation exists about the failure being known. If that's the case, that doesn't end well for anyone involved.

Dan - Owner
http://www.Hi-TecDesigns.com

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

2
another bit of advice for the OP, which he may have already determined on his own

I would not post another thing on this or any other site about this matter until you speak with a lawyer.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

MacGyverS2000,
Here's the OP quote that I seemed to get the impression that the thing was fixed but the need for the fix was the thing to be hidden.
But you may be right that the product could have been already out there.

Quote:

The department head further explained that we would only report the corrective actions and would not give reason why to any executive members...

Check out Eng-Tips Forum's Policies here:
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RE: I recently raised concern about safety

In keeping with the above, do you also have a duty to inform others (us) of the products using this control system?

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

I really think that you could be stripped of your PE license for these kind of shenanigans. I don't think there is anything you can do to win in this situation. There is no winning. You are just trying to not get burned. Talk to a lawyer.

If a company has a 30 day retention period on emails, they can't use that to allow evidence to disappear because the cost of storage is extremely cheap. It is near impossible to delete everything without raising red flags. It was shown that John Carmack was googling how to wipe a hard drive and had wiped a considerable portion of his drive in the Zenimax vs Occulus/Facebook lawsuit over stolen code. It becomes very difficult to show innocence after it looks like evidence has been destroyed. Your company should have liability insurance and destroying emails and documentation in my opinion only increases its liability.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

As others have indicated, you have already been "thrown under the bus"- your actions from this point on will only determine how extensive the damage will be.
IMHO, you should consult a lawyer familiar with professional and product liability issues right away. In your position, I would not "delete/shred" anything without a consensus from said lawyer.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

To take this one step further, I would at least consider reporting your boss to your state board. His ethics suck.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)


RE: I recently raised concern about safety

The OP's in product design so its doubtful he or the dept head are licensed. The crux of the issue is whether or not the product has been released to the public or is still in development. If its still in development then covering screwups really isn't a big deal from a legal sense nor uncommon, some companies only document final successes not failures. Personally I prefer to document everything as lessons learned, but to each their own. If the product has been released to a customer then the proper thing for the OP to do is contact his employer's HR and legal depts asap for guidance. DO NOT DISCUSS SPECIFIC COMPANY MATTERS WITH A PRIVATE ATTORNEY UNTIL YOU CONTACT COMPANY COUNSEL AND ARE STILL DIRECTED TO DO SOMETHING UNETHICAL OR ILLEGAL. You must give your employer opportunity to resolve this issue internally or you are committing a pretty serious ethics violation yourself and may end up fired, blackballed, and possibly sued.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

3

Quote (CWB1)

DO NOT DISCUSS SPECIFIC COMPANY MATTERS WITH A PRIVATE ATTORNEY UNTIL YOU CONTACT COMPANY COUNSEL AND ARE STILL DIRECTED TO DO SOMETHING UNETHICAL OR ILLEGAL. You must give your employer opportunity to resolve this issue internally or you are committing a pretty serious ethics violation yourself and may end up fired, blackballed, and possibly sued.
No way, Jose! My job is to protect numero uno first, everyone else second. There's nothing wrong with getting advice from a licensed attorney BEFORE talking with company attorneys. Company attorneys are there to protect the company first, you second (if at all)... approaching them first without knowing your personal options may quickly back you into a corner you can't get out of.

And come on... you can discuss matters with a lawyer without violating ethics mad

Dan - Owner
http://www.Hi-TecDesigns.com

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Lawyers have solicitor-client confidentiality, and besides, at an initial meeting with an independent lawyer, you can say "the company that I work for", and "a product that we produce", and "my boss", without naming names, until you get a feel for what the overall situation is. Certainly the company's lawyer or legal team should be contacted to see what they suggest, but the course of action from there depends on whether the company's legal team decides to intervene in order to handle the situation properly, or continue to attempt to cover it up.

Personally, I'd be editing my resume, regardless.

Keep in mind that product defects are found and fixed all the time, hopefully during design, sometimes during testing before release, sometimes after they are out in the field. Product recalls do happen.

The original poster hasn't stated publicly whether this problem is a mountain, or a mole hill. And they shouldn't, until some attempt is made to rectify the situation internally. If they make it right, life goes on.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Quote:

And come on... you can discuss matters with a lawyer without violating ethics

Take a basic legal course sometime. There are many situations where you cannot legally discuss matters with an outside attorney, nvm ethically.

Stateside, discussing proprietary info with anybody outside the company is somewhere between highly unethical and outright illegal even if the relationship is privileged, which may actually negate that privilege. From the OP, his employer has done nothing wrong so he cannot seek whistleblower protections yet. A fellow employee is the only one that may have done something wrong thus far. If the OP does not give his employer's legal & HR dept opportunity to correct issues then he's sticking his neck out pretty far. If his employer becomes aware of an outside consultation due to an overzealous attorney or slip of the OP's lip, they are well within rights to terminate and pursue other recourse against him.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

There are definitely a few details missing, that are noted above. Most managers know what they are doing is wrong. Tell them privately that what they are doing puts the team at risk or something that will not put them on the defensive. Standing up to your boss is important, however it can go two ways, either he will respect you more, he will treat you like crap till you get a new manager, or you will need to find a new job.

Regardless what you do its always better to sleep good at night.

*As noted above, print emails, take lots of notes, etc...

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

I do not see details missing here that would change my mind.

1. The boss is not concerned about the public.
2. The boss wants to lie to the other executives.
3. The boss wants to destroy evidence and engage in a coverup.

Where are the mitigating details?

Do you condone coverups for the sake of money, throwing the safety of the public to the wind?

The size of the impact here should not matter. This issue is personal ethics and principle. Legal issues second.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)


RE: I recently raised concern about safety

CWB1, the OP doesn't have to discuss proprietary information with his lawyer. He can keep it very generic and make sure he/she is protecting themselves first. Going directly over his bosses head to the HR/Legal Department would really seem to open the OP up to retaliation or at least being treated poorly by his boss.

Maybe the outside lawyer would recommend going to the HR/Legal Department, but at least then there is outside record of some conversation between the OP and his council prior to this. Would think that makes a retaliation/whistleblower case much easier if that indeed did happen.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

I wonder which one of us is the OP, joining in the discussion with anonymity. bigears

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

After joining Eng-Tips Forums on April 23, 2019, I've logged in 3 times. My last login was on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. I've started 1 thread.


And it was very funny.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

n3w9uy,

You can seek generic legal advice from private counsel regarding the legalities of destroying documentation in whatever industry your are in. I don't see anything wrong with seeking generic advice as a first step. If a lawyer advises that this is in fact illegal, you can decide what to do from that point based on your personal ethics. But I think you should know the legal parameters before taking any actions.

Hopefully your product doesn't become a topic in the "Engineering Failures & Disasters" forum someday. One common theme in that forum: ethical "forks in the road" where at least one decision maker put corporate or personal interests ahead of the public's.

I'd like to be able to say if it was me, my resignation letter would be on my manager's desk already. But the company I work for has done some semi-shady stuff in the past and I still deposit their paychecks. We all have bills to pay and mouths to feed. But in your case, doing what they are asking might put you at more personal risk than disobeying. And if this product could pose significant risk to public safety, you could ultimately have something far worse on your conscience. It sounds like your company intends to correct the defect, but if they are willing to cover this up, can you really trust them?

Good luck

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

A line from Erin Brockovich comes to mind when she is talking to Charles Embry.
Charles: "I was asked to destroy some documents. I wasn't a very good employee."

"Wildfires are dangerous, hard to control, and economically catastrophic."

Ben Loosli

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Quote (djhurayt)

I would not post another thing on this or any other site about this matter until you speak with a lawyer.
I think the OP took this advice.

RE: I recently raised concern about safety

Just to be clear, the company's lawyer is not there to protect you, just like the company's human resources rep is not there to protect you. They are there to act for the company. If you have a legal issue that affects the company primarily and not you, then talking to the company's lawyer is a wonderful idea. If you're concerned at all about your own liability, then you should be talking to someone who's job it is to protect your interests.

In a situation where you're worried about your own exposure, the person you should be asking whether there is anything you can't discuss with your lawyer is still your lawyer.

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